The third time was the charm for NASA’s Crew 6 launch to the International Space Station. The mission had been originally set to launch on February 25th and delayed twice, most recently because of an ignition issue with the Falcon 9 booster rocket. That launch was scrubbed just two minutes before scheduled liftoff on February 26th.
On Thursday, March 2nd at 12:34 am, the mission blasted into orbit from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center following a flawless countdown under a clear, dark Florida sky. The mission is the first crewed launch for NASA this year.
Onboard the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, named Endeavour, is an international crew of four. Two crewmembers are American astronauts, Commander Stephen Bowen, and Mission Pilot Warren “Woody” Hoburg. Also onboard are Emirati (United Arab Emirates) astronaut Sultan Alneyada, and Russian Cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev. Alneyada and Fedyaev will be serving as Mission Specialists on the six-month long mission. Alneyada represents only the second Emirati astronaut to ever fly in space, and the first on a long duration mission.
Of the four, only Commander Stephen “Steve” Bowen is a veteran of space flight, with three prior missions on the Space Shuttle under his belt. Bowen is also the oldest crew member at age 59. Bowen is a retired Captain in the U.S. Navy, and the first submarine officer to ever be selected as an astronaut. At a preflight press conference, Bowen quipped “Being on the ISS is a lot like being in a submarine. It sure smells the same.” The remark drew a raucous laugh among the reporters present.
The autonomously flying Endeavour docked with the space station shortly after 1:40 a.m. EST on Friday March 3rd, about 25 hours after launch. The coupling was confirmed as the ISS and Endeavour flew in tandem at 17,500 miles per hour about 261 miles above the Earth. The docking had fallen briefly behind schedule, as engineers worked through a sensor indication of a problem with the position of one of the 12 latching hooks on the Endeavour. After 23 minutes, it was determined that the sensor was faulty, and the latching hook was in its correct position.
Shortly after 3:45 am EST, the hatches to both the Endeavour and ISS were opened, and the Endeavour crew joined the seven person crew known as Expedition 68 aboard the ISS. Four members of the previous crew known as Crew-5 will return to earth in a few days (as of press time) aboard the Endeavour.
While in orbit for the next six months, the members of Crew-6 are tasked with performing over 200 science experiments relating to the human body’s long term reaction to space flight, as well as testing how different materials burn in space. The long-range goal of the experiments is to prepare NASA and its corporate partners for the future manned exploration of the Moon, and eventually Mars.